Some of the places we lived, though, were definitely interesting. Some of them were just hotels, one a dingy boarding house, some seemed just on the fringe of poverty, several were almost like palaces to me. There were times when my dad didn’t even live with us, I don’t know why. Much of this moving around was done when I was in grade school. The frequency of moving seemed to settle down after I got into junior high. My sister was two years ahead of me, my brother five years behind. Even with the changing of schools, some things still stand out in memory. When, I believe, I was in the third grade, that particular school room seemed bright and cheerful. The class would sit in a circle in those cute small wooden chairs. One time, I went to sit in my chair and a boy pulled it out from beneath me before I could sit – it wasn’t a comfortable landing. He did get into a wee bit of trouble for that. I also remember one of my junior high classrooms, and my history teacher in the front of that classroom framed by blackboards on faded green walls, windows on the left, wooden desks with writing surfaces on hinges in front of him. This was in a building that was said to be over 100 years old; we didn’t use the third floor. When we changed classes, the clatter of feet on wooden surfaces was audible. I went to seventh and eighth grades here, experiencing girlhood crushes and diagramming sentences. I also vividly remember the two high schools I attended (I can still sing the fight songs from both) – the first two years in New Jersey and the last two in Texas.
The memory of the feeling of walking into a new classroom, suffering through the introduction, wanting to hide, finding a desk and trying to fit in, is distinct. There was always a chuckle, a big chuckle when I was introduced – my name exuded just the right amount of poetic hilarity. My face always turned several shades of red; I could feel the tips of my ears getting hot. I wasn’t brave enough not to be embarrassed by my newness. I learned the act, though, of “fading into the woodwork.” Fortunately, there wasn’t a great amount of abuse – only a tad, the initial laughter. But, I was a loner, since I didn’t stay at schools long enough to make long-time friends. I do remember when we lived with my Grandmother one time, the children in the neighborhood used to yell at me and call me names (which, fortunately I don’t remember) – I would yell back “Sticks and stones hurt my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I also remember in fourth grade we used to always play dodge ball at recess, or maybe it was for P.E. One day, a girl threw the ball so hard, hit me in the stomach nearly knocking me over and definitely knocking the air out of me. I guess, though, I can’t be sure it was because I was a newbie, maybe she just wanted to win. But, I don’t recall any of the other kids being slammed like that. However, as a result of this moving around, trying to fit in, I became shy, somewhat withdrawn, and quiet. I tried not to call attention to myself. I always felt like a “fifth wheel” though.
As I grew older, my confidence increased. I found that humor helped. No, I didn’t become a class clown, I was never smart enough, nor brave enough, but I could occasionally be witty. And, I was always very careful about my appearance – I tried to be neat, clean and as “stylish” as monetarily possible. I endeavored to follow teacher instructions and rules – I found that to be much easier. Don’t make waves. Basically, I wasn’t very courageous. I did find some solace in my mother’s attention, such as it was. I was a “mama’s” girl as long as I was in grade school. After that, though, the need for motherly solace changed. Mother was in her own world, and of course, needed to take care of my other siblings as well, cook, and do all the necessary mom things – mind you, we each had chores; I was the one cleaning the house most of the time. She went back to teaching when my brother began school. There wasn’t much positive re-enforcement in our family. And, I don’t remember it ever being explained that we would be moving again, or having any discussions about feelings of being “left out”, of always being a new person - I’m sure I wouldn’t have known how to express it. So, I just plugged on – after all, my siblings were also newbies.
Now, many years later, I suppose I’m none the worse. I am no longer afraid, although there is a bit of apprehension, to go into a new place with folks I don’t know; I have stood before thousands as a presenter; I’ve traveled state side and abroad by myself; I talk to strangers while waiting in line or on a plane (but not enough to elicit boredom); I find it easy to compliment people, even strangers. Yet, I’m sorry to say, there are times when I still struggle a bit with the feeling of exclusion and continue to search for that sense of belonging. That is probably not unique to my experience. How, I wonder, can one be included without being intrusive? Perhaps by continuing to contribute to society in a positive manner; perhaps by valuing those with whom we interact; perhaps to continue to accept being an individual, one who is comfortable with doing things on her own; and, perhaps, to definitely learn to relish that independence. Maybe those early years were good foundation for the today years. Yes, I continue to try to put aside that old, nagging feeling of being “the new kid on the block.” After all, I haven’t been “new” for a very long time.